Smoking and the government

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

It’s an old axiom that one person’s individual’s rights stop at another person’s nose. This country has forged a legacy on such a principle.

Religious freedoms, legally, are absolute. Freedom of speech is still very much protected, often in the favor of whichever idiot chooses to make the speech. You can choose where to worship, choose what to say and not be legally persecuted because of either choice.

If you don’t like those who want to worship with you, or don’t like to listen to what’s being said by another, the logical alternative is to move away and find something else. Or one can fight hard enough, long enough and with such vigor as to drive out the unwanted.

Which, somehow, brings us to the touchy issue of smoking in public places.

In many ways, the issue draws more passion and division than where to pray or what to say. The non-smokers cite the negative medical side effects of breathing second-hand smoke, or a lowered quality of life for being around those who do smoke. Clothes absorb the smell of smoke, as does hair and other porous materials, non-smokers say.

Smokers, on the other hand, maintain that if someone doesn’t like being around one who smokes, there are plenty of other places to go.

And that’s the position between a rock and a hard place we find ourselves today.

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors was asked by city council members in Norfolk and Virginia Beach to join a regional movement to ban smoking in restaurants. Late last month, the board unanimously supported the ban.

But it’s not that easy.

Virginia is a so-called “Dillon-Rule” state, meaning that local governments’ power is limited to what is expressly given to them by the General Assembly. Regulating smoking in restaurants currently is outside the bounds of that power. The Norfolk-Virginia Beach strategy is to petition the General Assembly as a region to change the law to accommodate a smoking ban. The Franklin City Council, if it hasn’t already, almost certainly will be asked to join the effort.

It is an issue that divides us.

Smoking has been outlawed in most workplaces, but not in restaurants. That’s a difference between non-smokers choosing where to go and workers being forced to go.

The government does not dictate what’s on the menu at restaurants. We believe the same restriction should apply to smoking. The marketplace, not the government, will determine whether allowing smoking is good for their business.